If headaches are getting the best of you, the answer might not be loading up on painkillers or hiding under the covers in a quiet, dark room. The answer might lie in a visit to your dentist.
As it turns out, those headaches might be the result of teeth issues that can be helped with dental treatment.
“The overwhelming reality is that a person’s bite or bite habits are the origin of the majority of head, neck and jaw pain,” says Dr. Lisa Marie Samaha of Port Warwick Dental Arts in Newport News, Va. “There is no need to live with this kind of pain.”
Many of Us Suffer From Headaches
One in eight Americans suffers from recurring headaches that are bad enough to keep them from living normally, according to the American Academy of Craniofacial Pain. In fact, headaches are one of the most common pain problems in the United States. The Cleveland Clinic estimates that 30 to 80 percent of the adult population suffers from occasional tension-type headaches.
Tension-type headaches, which used to be more commonly known as stress headaches, are the most common of the 300 types of headaches. These types of headaches are associated with muscle tension that could be caused by any number of things: poor posture, not getting enough sleep, stress and … jaw misalignment. Jaw misalignment and having a bad bite can cause symptoms of temporomandibular dysfunction (TMD).
A complex series of muscles, ligaments and joints work together to keep the upper and lower jaws aligned and in balance. “When that alignment is off, the muscles and ligaments do their best to compensate, often needing to stretch, twist and torque to do so,” Samaha says. “This stretching and twisting causes pain triggers in the nerve endings of the head, neck and spinal column, even as far down as the lower back.”
A Bad Bite Can Cause Many Issues
Having a bad bite can make it painful simply to chew. Furthermore, if your jaws aren’t aligned properly, that could wear down or crack teeth, damage cosmetic dentistry such as porcelain crowns and veneers and cause issues with the temporomandibular joint (TMJ), which is the joint connecting your lower jaw to your skull.
If your jaw is in the wrong position, the muscles have to work a lot harder. They get tired easily, which can lead to muscle spasms. The more the muscles spasm, the more the pain increases. You may feel pain behind your eyes, in your sinuses or in your neck and shoulders. You may grind or clench your teeth in your sleep, causing you to wake up with a headache. You may feel pain on the side of your face near your ears or in your cheeks. You may even have ringing in your ears, known as tinnitus.
This type of pain is called referred pain. It’s when pain originates in a part of the body that’s different from where it is felt. So a problem with the teeth — even with a single tooth — can refer pain to the head.
That’s what happened with Elise Fee, a patient of Samaha’s. Fee — a speaker, author and life coach who lives near Washington, D.C. — had been experiencing regular headaches for some time, but never knew what was causing them. A previous dentist never made the connection.
“Turns out I was clenching my teeth while sleeping and my bite was off — the combination was creating these ongoing headaches,” Fee says. “No wonder they weren’t going away.”
Even if you don’t have regular headaches, you could have a jaw alignment issue if your jaw locks, pops, clicks or deviates from side to side when you open and close your mouth, according to Samaha.
What Can a Dentist Do?
“Sometimes we can begin to resolve a headache within 10 minutes with a simple, non-invasive device,” Samaha says.
Fee began wearing a custom-designed, very tiny sleep guard at night to keep her from clenching her teeth and was surprised when her headaches disappeared immediately.
Doris Thomas, another patient, experienced similar results. She, too, had been living with headaches for years — waking up with them and having them linger throughout the day. A mouth guard immediately helped relieve her headaches; a full-mouth reconstruction gave her a beautiful smile.
“Dr. Samaha suggested the cause may be the way my jaw is aligned during my sleep, or that I may be grinding my teeth at night,” says Thomas, who is from Alexandria. “She fitted me with a very small device that prevents me from grinding and clenching my teeth in my sleep, and my headaches disappeared in one night. It’s the first time in years I did not reach for Motrin as soon as I got up.”
If a conservative method such as a custom-designed bite guard doesn’t work, more sophisticated care that a relatively small number of dentists are trained to perform may be called for, Samaha says. If teeth are too far out of alignment, orthodontics or a complete reconstruction of the bite might be suggested.
“It is all depending on the dynamics of one’s bite,” she says. “More advanced techniques that include neuromuscular and structural analyses might be necessary in order to unravel the cause. Once the cause is discovered, a more advanced and strategic plan can be developed.”
Having had a holistic, biological foundation to her practice since 1982, Dr. Samaha uses the latest in technology and technique, allowing for simpler, more comfortable and comprehensive care that leads to healthier mouths and healthier bodies. Her practice emphasizes cosmetic, periodontal and reconstructive dentistry, with special attention to the growth and development of the mouth from birth through life, including the treatment of snoring and sleep apnea. Contact her at 757-223-9270 or visit her website at PWDentalArts.com.